I have a quick question- I'm just a bit confused about the story I'm writing.

So earlier today I posted the first chapter of my story, and someone commented that the story "escalated too fast for me to comprehend". Naturally, I went back and read over my chapter, but everything seemed fine. I didn't see anything wrong with the pacing, really, it might've been a bit rushed, but I couldn't think of a way to fix it.

The events are, in order:

MC heads off to work to confront her boss about something; MC collapses and is taken to the hospital, where she then wakes up; MC is offered a ride to a restaurant by her boss, who was there at the hospital waiting for her to wake up; MC and boss get into a car crash on the way there

The chapter is almost 3000 words long, if that helps in any way, and there are little spaces so the reader knows where the time skips are.

I do understand that there is quite a bit going on during one day, but for the story and sake of plot, I kinda need those things to happen around the first or second chapter so that I can get to the climax a bit quicker. (the story that I've planned is actually pretty long, and on the website that I'm publishing it on longer stories aren't accepted that much, so I'm trying to shorten mine up)

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    Well, I can see that there is a lot happening in just the first chapter. If the events follow a logical order and it's realistic enough, then it migh be fine. If your fear is that your story may not be accepted because of its length, then maybe you should consider publishing it in another website in order to have a desired result. – Marian-Danny Oct 19 at 4:20
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    Collapsing, waking in the hospital, and getting in a car crash in the same chapter seems like a lot of events to cover in one chapter. That seems like a lot of distinct scenes, but theoritically it might work somehow. Towards the ends of some stories a lot of events are rapidly described in epiloque, Also sometimes at the very beginning of a story as a form of epic setup. But its rare to have tons of events described rapidly outside the very beginning and end of a story. Sometimes with the introduction of a new character you might get a quick history. – Mark Rogers Oct 20 at 23:43

Several comments, in no particular order:

1) Sometimes the problem with pacing is in the transitions from scene to scene and not in the actual pace of the action. A few extra words at each transition might make a world of difference.

2) Read your chapter out loud to people. That really forces you to experience the work in a different way and often highlights problems that are easy to gloss over when you're reading it.

3) Get opinions from more people.

4) That's a heck of a lot of stuff happening in a space that isn't even as long as a short story. It is possible to pull it off but it won't be easy.

  • On 2: If you don't want to or can't read it to people for one reason or another, do what programmers do and read it to a rubber duck or a teddy bear. – Rogem Oct 22 at 8:29
  • @Rogem or better yet, load your text into a automated speech software, and let your computer read it to you. – Mindwin Oct 22 at 17:57
  • Can't vouch for the effectiveness of that, but I can say that the rubber duck method has solved some of the most infuriating bugs I've had. – Rogem Oct 22 at 19:23

My impression is that you've got so much going on in so few words, that you never really allow the reader to settle down and experience a scene, understand what's going on, go through your character's thoughts and feelings. Every one of the events you describe should have some sort of buildup, and some sort of resolution. What you have instead, as I understand it is "she's going to have an argument with her boss. BAM! She's unconscious and taken to a hospital. BAM! Boss is with her in the hospital and asks her out. BAM! Car accident."

Let's develop this further:

  • Your MC - who is she? What kind of person is she? Where does she work? What kind of position does she hold? How proficient is she? Does she generally like her work? Does she get along with her co-workers? How does she get along with her boss? How does she feel about him? That argument - is it about something he has done? Something he has not done? Something he's been doing or not doing continuously? How does she feel about having an argument with her boss - fearful for her position? Burning with justified rage and ready to climb barricades? Sad that she must disagree with a good man? What kind of man is the boss anyway?
  • The collapse: what causes the MC to lose consciousness? Is she ill? Not feeling well that day? Gave blood that morning? Are there any warning signs, (that maybe she ignores,) or does she just collapse?
  • Hospital: MC's emotions upon waking up there? Diagnosis? Tests? How does she feel about her boss being there? How does she feel about him being the one who's there? Why is he the one who's there? Why not family or a friend?
  • Restaurant: so have they resolved the issue they've been supposed to argue about before? How does she feel about sitting in his car?

Do you really resolve all this ebb and flow of things in just 3000 words? Events that are emotionally complex - you must linger on them, enough for the reader to understand them. If readers are saying that things are escalating too fast, it must be that you're not leaving time for processing. They've just started to understand what's going on in one scene, and you're already in the next one. No buildup, no resolution.

If you'd like to do things differently but are constrained by wordcount, why not find another place to publish - a place where you can do your story justice?

From the way you're telling it, I'd point my fingers against the time-skips. Apart from the necessary time-skip when the MC is unconscious (and you could fill it up with descriptions, dreams or maybe far-off memories) any other time skip is essentialy reducing word count, making the story seem shorter, and make the two traumatic events closer together.

What that person meant with "escalated too fast for me to comprehend" is that your reader doens't have the time to deal with the MC falling unconscious before the car crash.

The first chapter is often used to introduce the characters and the setting to the reader; you have to do this while dealing with two sudden incidents.

My suggestion is actually write something in those time skips. For example, about the MC falling uncoscious:

Alice felt her body grow heavy and her knees bend. She heard the low thud of an heavy object hitting the carpet of her boss office - part of her mind realized it was the sound made by her own body, falling. But her mind was distant, blank, and her vision blurred to darkness.

She dreamt of being in a back in fifth grade, her sudden sleep only somewhat troubled by excited voices around her, and then silence <whatever you'd like to insert here> when she wok up, she was surrounded by white hospital walls.

The same can be done for other time skips, too. When she wakes, the reader will expect some space to breathe. Show her talking to her boss and make the situation between the two straight. If she gets dismissed from the hospital, describe the whole scene. Throw in a dialogue or two with doctors and nurses. I know those things can be boring to write, since they are not the focus of the story, but they add realism and they will make your reader acclimate. Remember, you want to avoid the feeling that your story may seem like a check-list of events.

You can absolutely deal with both the car crash and the fainting in two chapters, you just have to be smoother on the edges.

You Jump In The Deep End Too Quick. Your Story Structure is Off.

I'm pretty sure your story is "rushed" because you did not spend enough time in the setup. At 3000 words, I don't think that is possible. You say your story begins:

MC heads off to work to confront her boss about something; MC collapses and is taken to the hospital,

You have tried to begin the story with the inciting incident; having to confront her boss about something (which I presume leads to her collapse: If the confrontation does NOT lead to the collapse, that is a story flaw and broken linkage; because she could have just gone to work normally and collapsed, and the whole "confrontation" thing was a red herring).

Good stories do not begin that way, not even short stories. They begin in the MC's normal world, so the reader gets to know them, BEFORE the inciting incident forces them OUT of their normal world to deal with a problem.

This is part of the Three Act Structure (3AS). Note this was not invented, it was derived from the analysis of many thousands of popular stories, the analysis discovered that popular stories tend to follow this template fairly closely. Emulating it will help. The "Hero's Journey" was also derived from legends and myths that have stood the test of popularity through centuries, but I consider it a specialized (and more detailed) subset of the 3AS, not an alternative. There are others like that, Shakespeare's Five Act Structure is an example.

I prefer to divide these into [Act I, Act IIa, Act IIb, Act III], they are all approximately equal in length, 25% of the total story -- But give or take 10%, depending on your needs; i.e. none of these four pieces should be less than 15% of the total, or more than 35% of the total. A story with a large cast of characters might demand a longer Act I to naturally introduce them all. (Although a story like Ocean's 11 spends a long time introducing Clooney and Pitt, then introduces the other eleven main characters (including the villain and love interest) in fairly short vignettes).

For a given word count (and it sounds like you have one in mind), the "inciting incident" (also known as the "call to action") occurs in the middle of Act I. That is at the 12.5% mark in the story. The MC should leave her "normal world" at the end of Act I (25% mark). To me, that is with your car crash.

Which means nothing very important happens in that first 12.5%, the reader is being introduced to the MC (and perhaps supporting characters), the world, her normal life, and getting to know her.

In order for readers to sympathize with her, you need to give her some problem, something she cares about. This can be a "throwaway" problem, meaning it doesn't have to influence the plot (better if you can think of a problem that does), but it exists to show us something about the MC's character and abilities. For example, she wakes up late for work because there was a power failure while she slept, and she also has to get ready for work by the light of her phone without electricity.

Or her car won't start, and she has to call a cab. Or any number of other minor problems we all have with day to day life. In the first 12.5%, you still need conflicts to pull the reader along to the inciting incident, but these early conflicts are of a special type, they are only there to shine light on your MC from different angles, for the reader. To make them see her true self and like her, so they care about her later when she is in danger, collapses and gets in a car crash.

Because of this different flavor, these early conflicts can be throwaways, or humorous, and are seldom life threatening or dire. For example, accidentally burning your breakfast because you are distracted by dramatic news on your phone (news that might be indirectly connected to your plot).

Again, the 3AS is not some law passed that for some reason all readers from 2 to 102 have agreed to follow, by refusing to like books that do not follow it.

The 3AS is science, the result of distilling stories readers already love and figuring out the pacing those stories have in common. That is the 3AS, and indeed, if you follow it, your pacing will work out, and when you don't, people think your story needs work. They may not be educated in literary science, but what they feel naturally a story needs is missing. That is what your friend is telling you with "it's rushed", that you did not spend enough time making them care about your character before you dropped her in the river. That they are not sure yet if they even like her, or should root for her, and they have a need to like her and you have a responsibility to show them she is likable. She's feeding a stray cat, she helps out her neighbor, something that makes her human. Use your imagination. Compress or cut down some other part of the story, you truly must begin your story in her Normal World and let us find an MC we like there, before your inciting incident. If Act I is only 15% of the story (IMO the bare minimum), then 7.5% of the story must be her Normal World.

When the author and the reader have a different experience of a work, it's usually because the writer is experiencing a context to the events that the reader does not have access to. Remember, the only things available to the reader are what you put on the page. In general, people respond to stories emotionally, so critiques about stories are generally best analyzed as critiques of the emotional structure.

In this case you have some big emotional highs and lows in a very short span of time. For someone to leave a hospital and immediately get in an unrelated car crash doesn't feel realistic. It's not that it couldn't happen, but that it won't resonate with readers. In terms of fixing it there are three ways you could go:

  • You could make each of these incidents into its own story. Most short stories only focus on one major incident, because there really isn't time to do justice to more than that in a limited amount of space.

  • You could combine these incidents and reduce the total number. It's not clear to me why the protagonist needs to be in the hospital twice in the same chapter, or what the utility of delaying the showdown with the boss until after the collapse is. That's not to say you might not have good reasons, but you may want to try to see if similar things can be combined into one.

  • You could start the story at a later point. For instance, the story could start with her waking up in the hospital and move forward from there.

One person has criticised the pace of your chapter. So what?

Maybe Chapter 2 will open with 'Well, that was a lot to happen all in one day! Perhaps I'd better take you back to the beginning. It all started when...' Or maybe, as the story develops, that seeming jumble of events will be seen to have a reason?

Nothing wrong with tailoring the length of a story to suit its market. Shakespeare's plays had to fit in an evening at the theatre. Dickens' novels were written in chunks suitable for newspaper serialisation.

You say you 'posted it'. Where? Our comments would be much more use after reading it.

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    Some stories cannot be told in a fortune cookie. The complexity of the story may be wrong for the venue he has chosen, a short story is by necessity very simple with limited characters and a simplistic plot. Presumably the one person criticizing the pace was the one person the OP trusted to offer honest criticism; ignoring that criticism is not a sensible thing to do. Asking us here how to know when pacing is off, is a good response to that criticism. Your advice to just dismiss his friend's input as a one-off and plunge ahead is not very helpful. – Amadeus Oct 19 at 19:00
  • That's a lot of presuming! Let's wait for the link to the story. Many of the comments here have shown a predelictation for wordiness rather than pithy conciseness. It's a common misconception in authors' forums that good writing should use lots of words, context and description. – Laurence Payne Oct 19 at 20:12

Reading the concise blurb you have written, it doesn't seem like there is a lot of text there or at least, not text that couldn't be condensed into less words. However I feel I am missing a fair chunk of the nitty gritty and the descriptive narrative so my reply may well be part blind.

Could you do like Lee Child in Jack Reacher books and break that one chapter down into many sub-chapters? A Jack Reacher book can have 75 chapters. Each one dedicated to part of the story. It may be that yours works like that too.

Chapter one - MC gets wronged! MC realises she needs to confront her boss...on the way there she collapses

chapter two - MC gets stopped Mc collapses due to the stress of needing to confront her boss. She wakes up in hospital, and at the end of the bed she cannot believe who she sees......

chapter three - The end of bed stranger it is her boss, how did her boss know she was there, why is the boss there? the boss offers to take her to a restaurant to recover from the collapse.

chapter four - The world conspires to stop her on the way there the vehicle they are in is hit from the side.

That would break it down so it wasn't so much information to swallow in a single go BUT still allows you to keep all of the same information in it and perhaps expand each chapter a little so that you can fully let the reader settle into the story you are trying to tell.

If that wouldn't work for you, perhaps even you could elucidate later in the book on why the first chapter seemed so fast paced and why so much happened. Make the fact your first chapter is "how it is" part of your story.

Again these are just ideas. I cannot see what is strictly wrong with your first chapter, however I am only seeing a high level overview so what I have said could be so insanely wrong you are wondering what this mad man is talking about.

Every writer strives to make readers to feel the universe depicted in the story or writing.

MC going to her boss(action) - confront(emotion)- collapses(incident)- taken to the hospital(action) -boss waiting for her(action)- MC wakes up(action) - ride being offered by the boss(action) - car crash(incident)

if you see there are too many actions & incidents in a short span of time & too little emotions for someone to empathize. Now coming back to your case, as you suggested there were 3000 words & if I assume average 12 words a sentence, there will be approx 250 lines which I feel are pretty much to describe your story which you've summarized. But from the feedback you got, there is a little possibility that in your 250 sentences, there might be too much information regarding action / incidents but little room for emotions for someone to put oneself in the character.

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    "I felt that these lines did not let me to immerse into the scene." Are you answering the question or actually commenting the actual story that OP is referencing to? – Liquid Oct 19 at 10:02
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    I am answering the question posed in the title @Liquid – Ruchit Dalwadi Oct 19 at 10:03
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    MC going to her boss(action) - confront(emotion)- collapses(incident)- taken to the hospital(action) -boss waiting for her(action)- MC wakes up(action) - ride being offered by the boss(action) - car crash(incident). @Liquid if you see here, too much actions & incident and too little room for emotions for someone to immerse in the story. So it would naturally feel too fast. – Ruchit Dalwadi Oct 19 at 10:15
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    And this is a legitimate concern. Maybe you should expand your answer, so it explains this more in depth, as you showed in here? – Liquid Oct 19 at 10:42
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    I think you need to add that explaination to your answer. The wording of this answer sounds to me as if you have actually read the story; which just makes it somewhat strange since there isn't a link to the story or anything. – JMac Oct 19 at 17:43

Is it too much? It's hard to tell from a summary. Quite possibly, but it might also be fine. It's also the case that the reader is probably right that something feels wrong, but may not be right about what's wrong.

If you do want to change something, is it important that all these happen at once? Is it just a coincidence she gets ill and then into a car crash, or are they linked? E.g. start with a future-knowledge voice "so much was going to go wrong that morning I couldn't believe it afterwards. I fainted in front of my boss AND a car crashed into us. It happened like this..." Or decide that she insisted on driving and got into an accident because she wasn't actually well enough to drive.

Or start after the dramatic events, with her reactions to them, or with them, instead of imposing the events on a reader who was just getting settled into whatever else was happening.

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